Category Archives: Annotated Games

The Second Missed Fork

Another game, another White, another Queen’s Gambit Exchange (well, sort of), another missed fork.

1. d4 d5
2. c4 e6
3. Nc3 Bb4
4. Nf3 Nf6

Black chooses the Ragosin System. He’s planning to meet Qa4+ with Nc6 when you might argue that both the white queen and the knight on c6 are misplaced. Of course Bg5 and e3 are both fine but instead I exchange at once.

5. cxd5 Bxc3+

A very strange decision, giving me an extra centre pawn as well as the two bishops. White has a very large plus score from this position.

6. bxc3 exd5
7. Bg5 h6
8. Bh4 Bf5
9. Qb3 b6

The computer prefers to give up the b-pawn with Nbd7, which it considers equal. Now I could trade on f6, when Black has to double his f-pawns to avoid losing a pawn, but I preferred to wait to see if he castled.

10. e3 O-O
11. Bxf6 gxf6
12. Be2

I might have played c4 here.

12… Nc6
13. O-O Na5
14. Qa4

And now I might have played Qd1, followed by Bd3 to trade off the bishops. The queen’s not so well placed here.

14… c6
15. Nh4 Be4
16. f3

16. Bg4 followed by Bf5 was better, still trying to trade bishops. I think I’d just failed to notice that the black bishop had the h7 square available.

16… Bh7
17. g3

The immediate e4, sacrificing a pawn to open lines, was probably a better idea. After 17… Re8 Black would have been close to equality. One idea will be b5 followed by Nc4 (you might remember that Black might have gone for the same idea in the game I showed you last week: something for me to remember and learn from). Black vacillates a bit over the next few moves before hitting on the right plan.

17… Qe7
18. Ng2 Kh8
19. Qd1 Rae8
20. Qd2 Kg7
21. Rae1 f5
22. Bd3 b5
23. Qc2 Qg5
24. g4

Trying to be clever but we both missed something. After 24… fxg4 25. Bxh7 f5 Black will regain the piece with a position the computer assesses as equal.

24… Nc4
25. Bxf5

Another possibility here was 25. h4 Qf6 26. gxf5, but, as usual, I seize the first opportunity to trade queens.

25… Bxf5
26. Qxf5 Qxf5
27. gxf5 Rg8
28. Kf2

28. e4 was better. Here Black should have preferred 28… Kf6 29. e4 Nd2, but instead creates a cheap threat.

28… Nb2
29. Rb1

Better was 29. Nf4 Kf6 30. e4

29… Nc4
30. Rfe1 Kf6
31. e4 dxe4
32. fxe4 Nd2
33. e5+ Kxf5
34. Rbc1 Ne4+
35. Kf3 Ng5+

The black knight heads in the wrong direction. 35… Nd2+ was correct.

36. Kf2

And the white king also heads in the wrong direction. 36. Ke3 was better for White, not blocking the f-file, but now Black could equalise with 36… f6. This is a rather tricky position, and, without too much time left on the clock, the inaccuracies are, at this level, understandable.

36… Nh3+
37. Kf3 h5
38. Ne3+ Ke6
39. c4 Ng5+

The computer prefers b4 here. The checks force White’s king to a better square.

40. Kf4 Nh3+
41. Kf3 Ng5+
42. Ke2

Untypically, but correctly, turning down a possible repetition.

42… b4
43. Kd3 Rd8
44. Rf1 Rg6

A fatal error. He had to play Kd7 to clear the e6 square for the knight.

45. h4 Nh3
46. Rf3

The immediate Rf5 was winning, but instead I decided to force the knight to what I thought was an even worse square first.

46.. Ng1
47. Rf5

But this move is now a blunder. This is the position you might have seen before. I’d overlooked the tactic 47… Rxd4+ 48. Rxd4 Ne2+ with Black for preference, although White can probably hold. I suppose it’s not so easy. It’s quite an unusual position, it appears, superficially, that Black has no counterplay, and the clock is running down. I should have learnt the idea from my previous game, though. Luckily for me, my opponent didn’t notice it either.

I was still winning with either Rff1 or Rf2 here, but Rf4 would have been less clear. The reason is that, after, say, 47. Rf2 f6 48. d5+ Kxe5, White wins at once with 49. Nf5, and Black has to give up a rook to avoid immediate mate.

47… Nh3

Now White’s centre pawns are too strong. The rest of the game can pass without comment.

48. Rcf1 Rf8
49. d5+ cxd5
50. cxd5+ Ke7
51. Rxh5 Rc8
52. Rh7 Rc3+
53. Kd2 Ra6
54. Rhxf7+ Kd8
55. Rf8+ Kc7
56. R1f7+ Kb6
57. Rf6+ Ka5
58. Rxa6+ Kxa6
59. e6 Ra3
60. e7 Rxa2+
61. Kc1 Ka5
62. e8=Q Ng1
63. Nc4+ 1-0

The First Missed Fork

My next opponent and I had had several quick draws in recent years and this time we, in effect, agreed to share the point before the start of the game. I essayed the Black Knights’ Tango, an opening I increasingly think is rather dubious, and soon found myself at a slight disadvantage, but once I’d equalised my opponent offered to share the point. I accepted and we spent the rest of the evening in the adjacent bar. Much more enjoyable for both of us than playing a serious game!

Regular readers will have seen a position from my next game several months ago. Here’s the complete encounter. I’d recently read Matthew Sadler and Natasha Regan’s excellent book Chess for Life, and was particularly impressed by the chapter on Keith Arkell’s handling of the QGD Exchange. When I try the same opening with White, though, things never seem to work out the same way.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 e6
3. Nf3 d5
4. Nc3 Be7
5. cxd5 exd5
6. Bg5 h6
7. Bxf6

They usually play Bh4 here, but this is also OK.

7… Bxf6
8. e3 O-O
9. Qc2 c6
10. Bd3 Qd6

An unusual choice. Re8 and Nbd7 are both popular here.

11. Rb1 Bg4
12. Nd2 Re8
13. O-O Nd7
14. b4 a5

Ambitious. Rac8 has been played a couple of times here. I decide to take the pawn, but now we’ve moved away from typical QGD exchange territory.

15. bxa5 Reb8
16. Nb3 Bd8
17. Bf5

The wrong plan. The computer prefers 17. e4 or 17. a6 bxa6 18. e4, with a slight spatial advantage and play against the pawn on c6. As so often in my games, I’m too eager to trade pieces.

17… Bxf5
18. Qxf5 Bxa5
19. Nxa5 Rxa5
20. Rb3

Failing to understand the position. I had to play 20. a4. Now Black would be a bit better after 20… b5, with Nb6 and Nc4 to follow. But instead he blunders into a tactic.

20… Nf6

This is the position you might have seen before. If you have you’ll recall, if you haven’t already spotted it, that I could have won a pawn by a simple combination: 21. Rxb7 Rxb7 22. Qc8+. As usual, I failed to consider it at all, even though I tell my pupils to look for every check, capture and threat. Instead, I spent some time analysing 21. e4 and eventually decided to play it, but without much conviction. I was right not to be convinced. One thing that was happening in my head was that I was very happy to notice a way to trade queens, and I usually go for anything involving a queen exchange. My feeling has always been that the more pieces I swap the fewer pieces I will have left to leave en prise and the nearer I will be to a draw.

21. e4 g6
22. e5 gxf5
23. exd6

I’d seen this and was hoping my pawn on d6 would prove to be strong. I’d seen that there were some lines when, if the knight on f6 moves away, I’d have the possibility of d7 followed by Rxb7, even though I hadn’t considered 21. Rxb7 at all. What I’d missed was that Black now has 23… Ne8 24. d7 Nd6, defending b7 again when the pawn on d7 will fall and Black will be a pawn ahead. Fortunately for me, my opponent missed this as well, and instead played…

23… b5
24. a4 Ne4
25. Nxe4

Leading to a level ending. I might, had I considered it, have tried for more with 25. d7, when Black would still have doubled isolated f-pawns.

25… fxe4
26. axb5 Raxb5
27. Rc3 R5b6
28. Rfc1 Kf8
29. g3 Rd8
30. Rxc6 Rxd6
31. Rxb6 1/2-1/2

The ending is completely level. A fair result as neither of us really deserved to win. I really must learn to spot simple tactics!

Richard James

Draw Or No Draw?

“If your opponent offers you a draw, try to work out why he thinks he’s worse off”
Nigel Short

Mentioning draws in competitive chess brings up first Fischer’s approach to play for a win in every game; possibly close behind is Short’s advice, something quite popular in junior and club chess levels. Of course things are not as simple as they seem and the correct way to look at draws is to take a balanced approach, analyse the situation at hand and decide if you need to play for a draw or not. We all start playing with the intention to win; some might even know the saying:
“If it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?”
Vince Lombardi
It is however possible to look for a draw all along if the opponent is quite strong or famous. One of the latest examples in this regard is the first game between Magnus Carlsen and Bu Xiangzhi at the FIDE World Cup 2017. Bu sacrificed a piece to open up Magnus castle. All the pressure was then on Magnus who had to choose between going for a perpetual or playing ahead and proving the sacrifice was wrong. What would have you done in his shoes? It depends, right? Going back to Bu’s decision, it shows one of the right ways to go for a draw: attack the opposing King, offer a perpetual line and have a strong attack with practical chances as the other option. Time could also become a factor since the stronger player would have to use it to decide what to do and how to navigate the stormy waters of defending properly. Magnus did not handle it properly and Bu’s decision brought him a decisive win:

The second and decisive game between Bu Xiangzhi and Magnus Carlsen (same event) was another good display on how to play for a draw from the beginning. Bu played very solid and maintained a small advantage throughout the game. Magnus could not muddy the waters, nor was he given any opportunity to create a weakness in White’s position. It is very hard to play for a win with the Black pieces in such cases.

I am sure if you look in your own databases of personal games, you could find several samples where you were faced with the same dilemma: “draw or no draw?”. My next two personal examples have passed the test of time and will forever stick with me, proving that draws can also be memorable.
The first one comes from my junior years. My queen side attack was not very inspired and my piece placement proved to be unfortunate. I remember sensing something was wrong and hoping I could hold on. My opponent came up with a brilliant plan, only to follow it up with a huge blunder when all he had to do was to collect the win. That gave me the opportunity to force the draw in a unique position. See it for yourself:

The second example is also a personal milestone, representing my first result for the national team. Back in 1989 Romania managed to arrange a friendly correspondence chess match with Germany, a perennial powerhouse. A number of young and full of potential players were selected to represent both countries and I was fortunate enough to also be selected on our side. I did not know much about my opponent except his high ICCF rating at the time (2485), while I had no international rating. We were playing two games in the same time (one as White and one as Black), moves being sent back and forth by post. The pace was about 1 move a month; the postal connection between Romania and Germany was still very sketchy at the time. I got an interesting position as white in the semi-Slav and had my eyes on attacking at the first opportunity; for that purpose I was ready to take risks.
“He who takes risks can lose, he who doesn’t however will lose for sure.”
Savielly Tartakover
Black got in time trouble, played a couple of dubious moves and then decided to go for the available line leading to a draw by perpetual.

Hope I made a good case for looking at the draw option with an open mind. Today chess is played under fast time controls and holding a strong position where you could offer a draw at anytime is a strong choice for all of us. Looking at the FIDE World Cup 2017 semifinal, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had the chance to play for a draw in his Armageddon game versus GM Levon Aronian. He did not succeed, but the possibility to decide the winner of the match like this was/ is of major importance. We need to be prepared to play for a draw if the situation dictates and there is nothing wrong with that.

Valer Eugen Demian

Speed Merchant

My next game featured a return encounter with the Harrow junior I played in my first game of the season. Here’s how our earlier game went. My opponent played all his moves (there weren’t very many of them) more or less instantaneously. I thought perhaps he was rushing the game because he had some homework to complete but that didn’t seem to have been the case.

Here’s the game, in which I had the black pieces.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4 Nf6
4. d3 Bc5
5. h3 d6
6. O-O Na5
7. Bb3 Nxb3
8. axb3 Be6
9. Nc3 a6
10. Bg5 Qd7

A pretty crude attempt to set up a sacrifice on h3. There were probably better plans available, but I suppose you can’t argue with success.

11. d4 exd4
12. Nxd4 O-O-O
13. f4

The engines prefer White after a move like Qd3. After this move, opening up the g1-a7 diagonal, the sacrifice is immediately decisive.

13… Bxh3
14. gxh3 Qxh3
15. Nce2 Ng4
16. Rf3 Qxf3
17. Bh4 Qe3+
18. Kg2 Qxe4+
19. Kg1 Ne3 0-1

The return encounter with our north west London rivals involved a relatively complicated journey by public transport: a bus, two trains and another bus. The trip started badly: the first bus took 20 minutes to get past the first two stops due to a traffic jam so I was running very late. I was pretty flustered when I arrived, finding myself facing the same opponent as in the previous game, but this time with the advantage of the move. He played at the same speed as last time.

Here’s what happened.

1. d4 d5
2. c4 c6
3. Nf3 Nf6
4. e3 Bf5
5. Nc3 e6
6. Nh4 Bg6
7. Nxg6 fxg6

A very strange decision. My database has 1340 games with hxg6 and only 16 with this move.

8. Bd3 Nbd7
9. O-O Bd6
10. cxd5 exd5
11. e4 dxe4
12. Nxe4 Nxe4
13. Bxe4 O-O
14. g3 Kh8
15. Bg2 Qb6
16. Be3

I’d assumed, correctly, it would be dangerous for Black to capture on b2 but my opponent didn’t think twice about it.

16… Qxb2
17. Rb1 Qxa2
18. Rxb7 Nb8

Nb6 or Nf6, allowing me to capture on c6, would have been better alternatives.

19. d5 c5
20. Qc1

My computer likes Qg4 here, with a fairly obscure (at least to me) tactical idea: for example 20. Qg4 Re8 21. Bh6 gxh6 22. Qf3 and now 22… Rf8 loses to Qc3+ while 22… Be7 loses to Rxe7.

20… Qa6
21. Qb2 Be5
22. Qb5

Chickening out by giving Black the option of trading queens. 23. Qb3, retaining the initiative, was correct.

22… Bd6

But instead Black blunders. 22.. Qxb5 23. Rxb5 Nd7 was only slightly better for White.

If I saw this in a tactics book I’d have no problem finding the very simple 23. Rxb8, destroying the defender and winning a piece. Indeed there are plenty of similar examples in Chess Tactics for Heroes, written for players of under 100 ECF/1500 Elo strength (if you want to see the first draft let me know and I’ll email you a copy).

How could I miss such a simple tactic? I was thinking that his last move defended c5 so he was planning to trade queens and keep his extra pawn. Therefore I had to retreat my queen to foil his plan. It just hadn’t occurred to either of us that my last move created a threat. Short circuiting in this way happens over and over again in my games.

23. Qb2 Be5
24. Qb5 Bd6

He repeats the same blunder, and, even after thinking a long time about whether or not to repeat moves I fail to spot the winning move. Instead I decide on a threefold repetition.

25. Qb2 1/2-1/2

What went wrong? Was I still flustered after the traffic problems on the way to the venue? Was I still lacking confidence after losing to a much lower graded opponent a few months earlier? I teach my pupils to look for checks, captures and threats, so why can’t I do it myself?

This was not the only game I played last season which featured simple tactics missed (regular readers will have seen some other examples already). Nor was it the only game in which I agreed a draw in a completely won position.

Richard James

A Knight on d6 is Dim

My next game was again with the white pieces against Mike Singleton, a very experienced player graded slightly above me.

We’d played twice before, a long time ago, and in each case I also had White. Mike beat me in a London League match in 1979, and we drew, again in the London League, in 1982.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 g6
3. Nc3 Bg7
4. Nf3 O-O
5. Bg5

The Smyslov Variation: unless your name is Vasily you might consider this a cowardly way to avoid the main lines. To be fair to myself, though, the stats are pretty good for White after 5… d6 6. e3.

5… c5

An excellent choice as long as you’re happy with a Benoni formation after White plays d5, which is really the first player’s only chance for an advantage.

6. e3 Qa5
7. Bd3

7. Qd2 is usually played here.

7… d6
8. O-O Bg4
9. Bxf6

A poor choice, completely misassessing the position after the minor piece trades.

9… exf6
10. h3 Bxf3
11. Qxf3 Nc6

The immediate cxd4 was probably better as I could now have played dxc5 with equality.

12. Qf4 cxd4
13. exd4 f5

By now I realised that I’d misjudged this position. I’d assumed that Black’s crippled pawn formation would give me the advantage, but in fact it’s Black who stands better due to the weakness of White’s d-pawn. Black’s fianchettoed bishop is very strong here.

14. Nb5 Rad8

He might also have played 14… a6 15. Nxd6 Bxd4 when the knight on d6 is in trouble.

According to Znosko-Borovsky in How Not to Play Chess: ‘The great Steinitz used to say that if he could establish a Kt at his K6 or Q6, he could then safely go to sleep, for the game would win itself’, although Edward Winter has failed to find any contemporary references to Steinitz saying any such thing.

You may recall a previous game in which I excitedly established a white knight on d6 only to find that it was neither strong nor stable on that square. Perhaps I should avoid putting my knights there in future.

15. Nxd6 Qc7
16. c5 Nxd4
17. Rac1 Ne6

My position is falling apart. My knight on d6 is being undermined and my pawns on b2 and c5 are both under attack.

18. Qf3 Nxc5
19. Nxf5

A desperate attempt to find a tactical solution.

19… Qe5

19… Bxb2 was the way to maintain an advantage. Now a forced sequence leads to a level ending.

20. Rfe1 Rxd3
21. Rxe5 Rxf3
22. Ne7+ Kh8
23. Rexc5 Rf4
24. Nd5

Not the most accurate move. It would have been better to do something about the b-pawn immediately…

24… Rd4
25. Ne3 h5

… because Black could now have won a pawn: 25… Ra4 when both my queen-side pawns are en prise.

26. Rc7 Rb4

Misplacing the black rook. Instead 26… Ra4 was equal.

27. b3 Bh6
28. Rd1 a5
29. Rdd7 Bxe3
30. fxe3 b5
31. Rxf7 Rxf7
32. Rxf7

White has won a pawn, but it’s probably not enough to win the game. Black aims to eliminate the queen-side pawns.

32… a4
33. bxa4 Rxa4
34. Rf2 Kg7
35. Rb2 Kf6
36. Rxb5

Settling for the draw. I could have tried to keep the pawns on but it was unlikely to affect the outcome of the game.

36… Rxa2
37. Rb6+ 1/2-1/2

A fair result, I suppose. I didn’t deserve anything more after a craven opening choice followed by an error of judgement on move 9.

Richard James

Sicilian Alapin Surprise

“Black has only two good replies (to 2. c3) – 2… d5 and 2… Nf6”
Evgeny Sveshnikov

White chooses Sicilian Alapin to surprise Black and render its theoretical preparation useless; instead of a well prepared Dragon, Najdorf, Sveshnikov or other preferred variation, the options are drastically reduced as any good book on it will tell you. A lot of times Black is not prepared for it and this gives White a psychological advantage at move 2. The good news is Black can also do something about it and the reduced number of choices helps. In my experience as a Sicilian player, one must have a variation ready to face the Alapin.

GM Johan Salomon is another very promising young player from Norway, the land of our current World Champion. Johan is very active on social media and regularly shares with his followers interesting puzzles and games of his own or by others. I find his choices very interesting and useful, like the following game I selected to share with you. IMO all Sicilian loving players should look at it and consider it as the starting point to explore the variation and ideas behind it. Without further ado here is the game:

White chose to avoid the heavily analyzed standard Sicilian variations with 2. c3 … and Black returned the favour with 5… Bf5; add into the mix an unexpected yet very playable queen sac and Black may have a nice surprise weapon to go along with the main preparation. Hey, one thing is for sure: if you manage to unleash the queen sac, your opposition does not read my column and you have a leg up on them. Please send over your games and get even better prepared in this variation to the point where white would avoid playing the Sicilian Alapin against you!

Valer Eugen Demian

Better Maul Paul

Returning to my games from last season, I was in need of a win to boost my morale, and, in my next game, had White against Paul Barasi, whom I’ve known well since our first encounter back in 1968. This was our eighth meeting, and up to this point we’d both won twice, with three draws.

As Paul is a regular reader of this column I’ll have to be careful what I saw about him!

Here’s the game:

1. d4 d5 2. c4 Nc6 3. Nc3 dxc4 4. d5 Ne5 5. Nf3 (f4 is the critical move in this southpaw Alekhine’s Defence) Nxf3+ 6. exf3 e6 (6… e5!?) 7. Bxc4 exd5 (7… c6!?) 8. Bxd5 Bd6

There are three games from this position on my database, all of them with the English FM Mark Lyell playing Black. In each case his opponents played Qa4+, and in each case White won the game. The engines prefer Qb3, after which they consider White stands better, so perhaps this line isn’t the best choice for Black. I chose a simpler move which poses fewer problems for Black.

9. O-O Ne7 10. Bb3 O-O 11. Ne4 Bf5 12. Nxd6 cxd6 13. Bf4 d5 14. Rc1 Be6 15. Qd2 a5

Giving me a fairly free pawn. Nc6 or Rc8 would have been OK for Black.

16. Bc7 Qd7 17. Bxa5 Qb5 18. Bb4 Rfe8 19. Bxe7 Rxe7 20. Rfd1 h6 21. Qd4 Ra5 22. g3 b6 23. Rc3 Qe8

Giving me a second pawn in order to threaten mate.

24. Qxb6 Rb5 25. Qd4 Bh3 26. Re3 Rxe3 27. fxe3 Qe7

There’s a third pawn if I want it. 28. Bxd5 Rxd5 29. Qxd5 Qxe3+ 30. Kh1 Qf2 looked scary and I didn’t have time to work it out. After the immediate 31. Rg1 Bf1, with the idea of Be2, White has to take a draw, but instead I can throw in 31. Qd8+ Kh7 32. Qd3+ g6 33. Rg1 when White is safe. 28. g4 is also an option, but again looked too scary. By now, needless to say, I was beginning to get short of time.

28. Kf2 Qc7 29. e4 (Bxd5!?) Rxb3

The engines, as expected, throw their hands up in horror on seeing this move, but it’s an excellent practical try in a lost position.

30. axb3 Qc2+ 31. Qd2 (the immediate Rd2 was also fine) Qc5+ 32. Qe3 Qc2+ 33. Rd2 Qc1

With insufficient time on the clock and facing a mate threat I went into panic mode and missed the correct defence here: 34. g4 Qf1+ 35. Kg3 when Black has nothing.

34. Qe1 Qc5+ 35. Ke2 dxe4 36. Qf2 (36. fxe4! Bg4+ 37. Kd3!) Qb5+ 37. Ke1 e3

I missed that one (exf3 was a better try for Black) but fortunately had a way out and just about enough time left on the clock to win the game from here.

38. Rd8+ Kh7 39. Qc2+ g6 40. Qd3 and i just about managed to beat the clock. I’m not sure that I deserved to win this due to my poor time handling, but still, a win is a win.

Another game, another White and another Paul, this time Paul Janota, another player of about my strength. This was our third encounter: we’d drawn in 2000 and I’d won in 2010.

1. d4 e6 2. c4 Nf6 3. Nf3 b6 4. a3 Bb7 5. Nc3 Be7 6. Qc2 (d5!?) d5 7. cxd5 exd5 8. Bf4 O-O 9. e3 Nbd7 10. h3 (Unnecessary here: Bd3!?) a6 11. Be2 c5 12. O-O Rc8 13. Qd2 Re8 14. Rac1 Nf8 15. Rfd1 Ng6 16. Bh2 Bd6 17. Bxd6 Qxd6 18. dxc5 bxc5 (A typical hanging pawns position which should be fine for Black. My opening hasn’t been very impressive.) 19. Bd3 Ne5 20. Nxe5 Qxe5 21. Be2 Ne4 (Not such a good idea. Now I get some play on the d-file.) 22. Nxe4 dxe4 23. Qc3 h6 24. Qxe5 Rxe5 25. Bc4 Re7 26. Rd6 a5 27. Rcd1 Bc6 28. Rd8+ Re8 29. Rxe8+ Bxe8 30. Rd5 (Bd5!?) Kh7 (Kf8!?) 31. Re5 (winning a pawn) Rb8 32. Rxc5 Rxb2 33. Rxa5 Rc2 (Rb7!?) 34. Bd5 (winning a second pawn because of 34… f5 35. Be6 g6 36. Rc7+) 1-0 A rather generous resignation by my opponent. He might have played on for a few more moves.

Two rather unconvincing wins, but at least they went some way towards getting my season back on track.

Richard James

The Time Factor

Two weeks ago I left you having just lost my worst ever game. Was I getting too old for chess? Would my season recover?

The following week I was back at Kingston, for a cup match. This time I was paired with black against one of my regular opponents, an experienced player of about my own strength who favours 1. d4 and 2. Bg5 with the white pieces. We traded a lot of pieces early on and reached what I thought was a slightly better ending, whereupon he offered me a draw, which, considering what had happened the week before, I was happy to accept just to regain my equilibrium. I spent most of the rest of the evening in the bar downstairs playing blitz against my opponent from the week before, and winning most of the games very easily.

In my next game I was black again, against Alfie Onslow, a very strong junior who had now outgrown Richmond Junior Club and was playing for Ealing Juniors. He had won a close game against me the previous season and chose the same opening this time round.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4 Nf6
4. d3 Bc5
5. c3

The current fashion, avoiding immediate confrontation and leading to a strategically rich middle game. It seems to be popular with a number of strong juniors at present.

5… a6
6. Nbd2 O-O
7. Qe2

Alfie played this against me in our previous game as well. It’s unusual but there’s nothing wrong with it.

7… d5
8. Bb3 Bg4

I don’t think this is a very sensible move. I tell my pupils not to play your bishop here in the Nc3 Giuoco Pianissimo if you’ve castled but your opponent hasn’t. It probably applies here as well. Having said that, though, a guy with a 2435 rating used it to beat a much lower rated opponent.

9. h3 Bh5
10. Nf1 dxe4

Making a decision as to what pawn formation I want to play. d4 was also possible here.

11. dxe4 Bg6
12. Ng3 Nh5

This is a serious mistake, although Alfie doesn’t take advantage of it.

13. Nxh5 Bxh5
14. O-O

Chickening out of the critical plan. White should go for the black king here: 14. g4 Bg6 15. h4 when Black has the unenviable choice between 15… h6 16. h5 Bh7 17. g5 and 15… h5 16. Ng5

14… Kh8
15. Be3 Qe7
16. Rad1 Rad8
17. Bd5 Bxe3
18. Qxe3 Qf6
19. g4 Bg6
20. Bxc6 bxc6

I’ve been outmanoeuvred over the past few moves and now have doubled isolated c-pawns. The white knight heads towards the key c5 square.

21. Nd2 Qe6
22. Nb3 Qc4
23. f3 f6
24. Qc5 Bf7
25. Qe7 Rc8
26. Nc1

Again opting out of the critical option, 26. Rd7, when Black might have chances of holding on after 26… Qb5.Now I can chase his queen back.

26… Rfe8
27. Qd7 Be6
28. Qd2 Qc5+
29. Qf2 Qe7
30. Rd2 Red8
31. Rfd1 h6
32. Nb3 Bxb3
33. axb3 Rd6

I’d been some way behind on the clock the whole game and by now I didn’t have time to think. Hence this move, which is in effect the fatal mistake. I just wanted to give him the opportunity of undoubling my pawns while contesting the d-file, but the undoubled pawns turn out to be much weaker than the doubled pawns. Instead I should have just waited to see how he was intending to make progress. The engines recommend a5, to prevent b4, either immediately or after trading on d2.

34. Rxd6 cxd6
35. Qb6

This is what I’d missed. There’s no way to defend the a-pawn. I think I’d have seen this and played something else on move 33 if I’d had more time on the clock. However, all is not necessarily lost. I could still have gained some counterplay if I’d have found the correct plan here. The white king is not altogether secure so I should have aimed to open some lines in the centre with 35… Qd7 36. Qxa5 d5 with some practical chances, but I didn’t have enough time left to do anything requiring any thought.

35… Kh7
36. Qxa6 Rc7
37. b4 Qe6
38. Qd3 Rd7
39. c4 h5

39… Rb7 still offered some chances but I only had time to look at one side of the board.

40. c5 hxg4
41. hxg4 g6
42. cxd6 Kg7
43. b3 Kf7
44. Qc4 f5
and White soon won.

Alfie played a good game and deserved to win, but perhaps I should have held the draw. My problem in this game, as with most of my recent games, was poor clock handling. When you’re playing to a finish in a 2½ hour session you really can’t afford to get too far behind your opponent on the clock, especially if you’re, like me, not confident when you have little time left. This is something I really need to work on in future.

Richard James

Bad ideas (2)

“Errare humanum est…”

My first article on this subject can be revisited HERE A few days ago I stumbled in my online search over one of Magnus Carlsen spectacular combinations when he was 12 years old. Possibly some of you might know it, while some might not. It is however safe to assume all will enjoy reviewing it together with my 2 cents about the game. The final combination did not happen out of the blue. There were a number of factors involved during the game to make it possible and in my opinion the most important one was a “bad idea” Black had in the opening. He planted the seed early and continued to water it until it grew into something nice looking and completely useless. I feel inspired today and will call it a “game eating” idea!

Let’s have a look at the game and how the “game eating” idea developed:

I think we must look at this game with a human eye. Black’s idea was to dominate the queen side and he achieved it. The main point is that it was absolutely useless and when Magnus played the final assault on the opposing king, those pieces on the queen side were still dominating it and being absolutely useless in the same time. Black had a few opportunities to re-adjust instead of persevering, but missed them. What do we learn out of it? The main lesson for me is the importance of piece activity (lessons 10 to 14, level 5 of our chess app). Always pay attention to what your pieces and the opposing pieces are doing at any moment. Be ready to move them around as the position requires and expect this simple advice to be hard to follow. Please practice it as often as possible because it is the only way to get better. Good luck!

Valer Eugen Demian

Heffalump Swamp

The only competitive chess I’ve played for many years has been in my local league, the Thames Valley League. As I write this we’re half way though the summer break so it’s a good time to look back to last season’s games and consider how I might do better next time round.

My first game last season was a quick (in more ways than one) win against a talented junior which I’ll probably come back to later. My next match was against Kingston, a small club with a fairly strong first team but not much in the way of reserve strength. As several of their regular players were unavailable I found myself playing an opponent graded more than 50 points (about 400 Elo points) below me. Now I’m normally fairly consistent: I tend to beat lower graded players, lose to higher graded players and draw with players about my own strength, so, with the advantage of the white pieces, I was expecting a fairly comfortable victory.

Here’s what happened.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 d5

If he’s playing this move he doesn’t know a lot about openings.

3. cxd5 Nxd5
4. Nf3 Nc6
5. e4 Nb6
6. d5 Nb8
7. Nc3 e6

He’s hitting my centre pawn. What to do? At this point I started having visions of my opponent playing Bb4 sometime soon giving me problems holding d5 so I panicked and looked for a way to stop this idea. Bf4, Be2 and Qd4 have all been played here and the engines rather like a4, but I decided I should trade off the dark squared bishops and get his queen off the d-file.

In fact I have tactical resources, for instance 8. Bf4 exd5 9. exd5 Bb4 10. Qe2+ or 8. Be2 exd5 9. exd5 Bb4 10. Qd4, but these weren’t immediately obvious to me so, after some thought, I played…

8. Bg5 Be7
9. Bxe7 Qxe7
10. Be2 O-O
11. O-O

I was happy with my lead in development, space advantage and extra centre pawn but the engines are not so impressed, considering the position about equal.

11… N8d7

The engines tell me Black should trade on d5 here, and that I should, either now or next move, play dxe6, meeting Qxe6 with Nb5. Not something I considered at all, of course.

12. a4 a5
13. Rc1 c6

Again he should have traded on d5, but instead he gives me the chance to play d6. Well, it’s the obvious move but again I started panicking about the pawn eventually being surrounded by the black pieces so decided on what I thought was a safer alternative.

14. dxc6 bxc6

I was still fairly happy here. Black has an isolated pawn which I can target, and if it moves to c5 I’ll have a tasty outpost on b5. I would also have argued that the black bishop is rather bad. The engines are still not impressed, though.

15. Nd4 Bb7
16. f4 Nf6
17. e5

Why not gain some space to go with my other advantages? I expected Nd5 here, but the engines prefer the unobvious (at this level) tactical shot Rfd8. Instead the knight went back where it came from, so I appeared to have gained a couple of tempi.

17… Nfd7
18. Bf3

Hitting the weak pawn on c6 again.

18… Nd5

Now I have to make a decision.

19. Bxd5

At the time I was pleased with myself for having found this move. I was trading advantages: giving up a bishop for a knight and straightening his pawns, assuming he’d take back with the c-pawn, but in exchange I’d get an outpost on b5, play on the c-file and, potentially, a good knight against a bad bishop. I didn’t seriously consider what would happen if he took with the e-pawn. In fact taking with the e-pawn is fine for Black and Bxd5 was a pretty poor decision. Nxd5 was OK and perhaps very slightly better for White, as was Qd2.

19… exd5

Never mind: I can still get my knight to d6. This must be good for me.

20. Nf5 Qe6
21. Nd6 Ba6

It hadn’t occurred to me that he now had this square for his bishop, but never mind. My rook will be happy looking at the black queen.

22. Re1 f6

It was only now that I realised I had a problem. I can’t defend e5 again and my knight on d6 has nowhere to go. It now seemed to me that, far from playing safe, I’d overreached and was now in trouble.

23. f5 Qe7

I couldn’t see any alternative to the speculative sacrifice on d5, but in fact there’s a tactical solution: 24. Ncb5 cxb5 25. Qxd5+ Kh8 26. axb5, when I’m regaining the piece as the bishop is trapped (Bc8 leaves the rook on a8 hanging). I’m not a good enough tactician to see that sort of thing, so I had to make do with…

24. Nxd5 cxd5
25. Qxd5+ Kh8

This looked fairly unclear to me: perhaps my opponent would find the defence too difficult. But now we’re in exactly the sort of swamp where heffalumps are as likely as rabbits to drown.

26. exf6

My computer tells me I should have played 26. Rc7, which is an immediate draw by repetition after 26… fxe5 27. Qc6 and now either 27… Rfd8 28. Qd5 Rf8 or 27… Nb8 28. Qc5 Nd7. But I was starting to run low on time and it seemed natural to trade off my e-pawn rather than leaving it en prise.

26… Qxf6

26… Nxf6, trading queens, was a probable improvement.

27. Rc7 Rad8
28. Qc6

After thinking for a bit I suddenly noticed I had a fork and jumped at the opportunity. But, unlike in the line after White’s 26th move, it’s just a losing blunder. I’d simply missed that he could defend with Nb8, meeting both my threats and creating two threats of his own.

It’s not obvious at my level and with the clock ticking, but 28. Rc6 Nb8 29. Re6 is the computer recommendation, apparently with equality. The tactical point is that the immediate 28. Rc6 would allow Qxb2, but now 29… Qxb2 would lose to Nf7+.

28… Qd4+
29. Kh1 Qd2

He should have played Nb8 at this point, which just wins at once. Now I have some sort of defence.

30. Rg1 Nb8
31. Ne4 Qe2

And here he should trade queens, which is still winning comfortably.

32. Qc3 Rd7
33. Rxd7

I had two better choices here: f6, which I think I considered but rejected, and Qc5.

33… Nxd7
34. Nd6 Nf6

34… Qd3 was correct here. Now I could and should grab the a-pawn: my only hope is to run Black out of pawns.

35. h3 Qf2
36. Rc1

Again, I should have captured on a5, which, according to my computer, is only slightly better for Black. By now neither of us had enough time left so I’ll let the rest of the moves pass without comment.

36… Bf1
37. Qc6 Qf4
38. Rc2 Bd3
39. Rc1 Bxf5
40. Nxe4 Bxe4
40. Nxf5 Qxf5
41. Rc5 Qf1+
42. Kh2 Qf4+

At this point I stopped recording as I was down to my last couple of minutes. My opponent eventually mated me with king and rook against king just before his flag fell.

So what went wrong? The mistakes at the end were understandable: the position was complicated and I didn’t have enough time left. The main problem was the blunder on move 28, and before that the positional misjudgement on move 19. I could have played the early part of the game much better, but on several occasions I didn’t play the move I knew I should have played because I was fearing ghosts: something that happens over and over again in my games. Perhaps I was unlucky because the run of play went against me. This sometimes happens, but my opponent played well after the opening and took enough of his chances to score a well deserved win.

Richard James